Texas is seeing an “unprecedented” increase in Chronic Wasting Disease cases in deer breeding facilities. This uptick has led to a new emergency order expanding mandatory live CWD testing statewide, TPWD reports. Since 2012, TPWD has recorded 504 confirmed cases of CWD in whitetails and mule deer, both free-range and captive. Sixty percent of the 504 positive tests—300 cases—have occurred since 2021, and breeder deer comprised 258 of them. In other words, 51 percent of all positive CWD tests recorded in Texas have come from breeder deer in the last two and a half years.
Per the new emergency order, a negative CWD test is now required for any captive deer transfer in the state—whether the originating facility is known to harbor CWD or not. The order, signed on July 24, builds on previously enacted emergency regulations that mandated testing for specific breeding facilities that were known to either house CWD-infected deer or receive deer from CWD-positive facilities.
“Since 2021, we have seen an increase in CWD detections from breeder deer at an unprecedented rate,” Silovsky, TPWD’s wildlife division director, said in a press release announcing the new rule. “It’s our hope that these emergency rules will strengthen our surveillance and reduce the number of CWD positive detections across the state.”
TPWD initiated this crack-down after the ninth facility in less than eight months produced a positive test last week. A captive five-year-old whitetail doe from Brooks County tested positive after being transferred from a CWD-positive facility in Frio County in 2022, TPWD reported on July 21. Facilities in three counties—Brooks, Frio, and Zavala—have tested positive since June, bringing the total number of infected counties in the state to 24.
The emergency order will remain in effect for 120 days. If necessary, TPWD can tack on another 60-day extension once the initial period ends.
CWD and Texas Deer Breeding
One explanation for the uptick in CWD cases is that monitoring has also increased substantially in recent years. Cases will likely continue to grow now that every deer transferred between any facility in the state will have to be tested first. (There’s no mention of who will foot the bill for such tests in the emergency order, either.)
Texas has the most known captive deer facilities in the country—858 as of 2021, according to a report from the National Deer Association. Those facilities are the driving force behind a roughly $1.6 billion industry.
Some whitetail managers and conservation groups have long pointed to these breeding operations as hotspots for CWD, since they concentrate animals in pens and make it easier for the prion disease to spread. Texas deer breeders, meanwhile, have fought against this perception and argued that the state will find the disease wherever it looks for it the most. The Texas Deer Association, which represents the state’s deer breeders, points out out that roughly 75 percent of their captive deer have been tested for CWD within the past two years, compared to the .27 percent of the state’s wild deer that have been tested over the same period of time.
Still, while it’s true that this disparity in testing could lead to a bias in results, it’s become abundantly clear that the transfer of captive whitetails throughout the state is allowing the disease to spread. This is what TPWD hopes to tamp down on as it works to protect the state’s wild deer herds.
“Deer breeding itself is not the problem. It’s the movement of live deer between and among facilities,” NDA’s chief conservation officer Kip Adams told OL in February 2023. “It’s crystal clear in Texas that the movement of these animals is greatly elevating the spread of the disease in the state.”
Dac Collins contributed reporting to this story.